Matt Azevedo felt like he was finally back home. Drexel’s head wrestling coach spent the latter half of his collegiate career wrestling for Iowa State University, and having the opportunity to return to his old stomping grounds and reconnect was a dream come true.
“It was great to go back to Ames, Iowa, and compete against my alma mater,” Azevedo said. “I saw some old teammates and friends. I just wish we could have gotten the win!”
While in Iowa Nov. 7, the Dragons dropped a close decision to Grand View University, falling by a 22-20 score in their opener. Their struggles continued later that day as the team lost another tight battle, this time to No. 16 Iowa State by a 24-16 score.
Even after losing twice, Azevedo was still encouraged with what he had seen out of his team. He knew that their time in Iowa would be tough, especially coming off a long offseason, but they showed grit and determination against one of the best teams in the country.
“Our guys competed very well this week,” Azevedo said. “I’m happy with where we are at this early in the season. We were one win away from beating Iowa State.”
The Dragons did not hang their heads after their time in Iowa. They had to travel straight to South Dakota for a matchup Nov. 9 with South Dakota State University.
The Jackrabbits proved to be easier to put away than the previous two opponents. Drexel was able to jump out to a quick advantage and never looked back, downing South Dakota State handily by a score of 26-10.
Jumping right back into the competitive wrestling season with a long and grueling road trip would be difficult for any team in the country. This particular road trip was able to open the Dragons’ eyes to what their strengths will be moving forward.
“Our team is very good from the top position,” Azevedo said. “We racked up a lot of riding time, several near-falls and three pins.”
Having three duals in a span of three days to start the season can also teach teams what they need to improve going forward. For the Dragons, finishing out their matches will be key. Azevedo admitted that their effort was not as good as he would have liked in the third period of their matches. Going forward, that will have to change if the team wants to be competitive with the country’s best.
Although the Dragons as a team dropped two of the three duals on the trip, wrestling is an intensely individual sport, and there were a few guys who had standout performances.
The freshman 125-pounder Kevin Devoy Jr. proved why Azevedo called him one of the guys to watch out for on the national scene this season. In his first trio of duals as a college wrestler, Devoy recorded three victories and dropped only one point. Two of his victories came by technical fall, and Azevedo is excited to see what Devoy can do going forward.
“His potential is very high,” Azevedo said of his freshman phenom out of Burlington, N.J. “He is a feared competitor, and he is strong in every position. He’s as tough as they come.”
Redshirt freshman 133-pounder David Pearce also recorded three wins on the road trip, recording one technical fall and one of the Dragons’ three pins over the weekend. It took Pearce only one minute and 46 seconds to record his pin against his Grand View opponent.
Austin Sommer, a 157-pound senior, and redshirt junior heavyweight Jamie Callender were the other two Drexel mat men to record a win by fall. Sommer’s pin came at the 6:52 mark against Grand View, while Callender’s came at the 5:29 mark against Iowa State. Azevedo spoke highly of Callender prior to the season as a guy to watch coming off a couple injury-ridden seasons.
Matt Cimato, a 141-pound redshirt freshman from Yardley, Pa., and Brandon Palik, a redshirt senior 197-pounder, both grappled their way to two wins each. Both had high expectations coming into the season, and both are living up to them so far.
The Dragons will need to bring their best game with them Nov. 16 when they travel to Michigan for the Eastern Michigan Open. They will square off against a ranked opponent in No. 24 Central Michigan University. The other three teams — Eastern Michigan University, Ohio University and Michigan State University — will be no easy tasks either.
Coming through with a victory this weekend will be tough, but Azevedo and his guys won’t back down. He doesn’t just feel like the Dragons have a chance to win; he knows it.
“All four teams we compete against next week will be tough,” Azevedo said. “We will have to wrestle very well [to] win those duals.”
He continued confidently, “I expect our team to get after it. We want to go 4-0, but more importantly, we want our guys to be aggressive and score points. If they do that, the winning will take care of itself.”